A Special Place
Editor's Notebook, October 2002
I've been thinking a lot about Thunder Valley these last few weeks. Not the web site, not the community of women in racing, not the company, but about the place, that small glen in the little forest in one corner of the race track just outside Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, USA. There are other places called Thunder Valley in the world, I know, but this one is mine.
If you've been reading these Notebooks for a few years, you know that my Thunder Valley is the sweetest spot on Earth. At least I think it is. There is a small ribbon of road that runs through it, from the track-out of Turn 12, which we call Canada Corner, to the apex of Turn 13, between the massive concrete abutments of the Billy Mitchell Bridge. The hillsides rise above the road on either side and the trees overhang the road, providing constant shade and comfort.
|drivers' skill and courage...|
The road is little used during the summer months and used not at all in the winter. On heavy traffic days, just a few cars pass by, but those cars are limited only by the laws of nature and the limits of their drivers' skill and courage. There are no motorcycle cops hiding in the woods. The flagging and communications volunteers (corner workers) are friends and admirers, on the alert for danger and ready to rush to assistance when needed. Sometimes great throngs of fans line the road. At other times, the drivers enjoy only the company of their fellow competitors.
Thunder Valley was formed by receding glaciers eons ago. The lands around it were hunted hundreds of years ago and farmed for most of the past two hundred years. For the last fifty years, Thunder Valley has been dedicated to motor racing. So may it be for hundreds of years to come.
Legendary race tracks are special places. Thunder Valley is a special place. Its hillsides will forever reverberate with the sounds of a special kind of human calling, with the search for the perfect line, for the perfect corner, for the perfect set-up. When I visit Thunder Valley, I feel the history. I hear the engines of long-gone racers. I know the beauty of the quest. I am struck by a sense of mortality, potentially imminent and, at best, occasioned by the passing of time.
The great race tracks of the world are hallowed places. Visit one on a quiet afternoon and let your mind wander. Immerse yourself in the lore of the track. Try to detect, in the quiet, the echo of motors at full throttle and the exhaust fumes they leave in their wake. Call out the names of drivers, famous and otherwise, who have challenged the track and have been challenged by it. Wonder at their achievements and weep for their passing.
We join one another on race day, as drivers, as crew, as fans, to honor our past, to celebrate the present, and to contemplate our combined future. We stand on ground made special by our passion and know that we are at home.